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Where did it go wrong for Kenya in World Cup qualifiers?

FOOTBALL By Washington Onyango | November 15th 2021 | 3 min read
Harambee Stars Coach Engin Firat during 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers return match against Mali at the Nyayo National stadium. Oct 10, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

In a week that has witnessed unceremonious change of guard at the local football governing body Football Kenya Federation, Harambee Stars will take on Rwanda in their final Group E match of the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers at Nyayo Stadium today.

Despite the ongoing challenges with FKF, which have seen the Ministry of Sports’ Caretaker Committee suspended all local football leagues, the national men’s football team will seek to redeem themselves with a win against Rwanda.

Kenya, who are now under a caretaker committee following the disbandment of Football Kenya Federation by the government, have performed poorly in the World Cup qualifiers and will play for pride against the Amavubi Stars.

In a season that promised high hopes for fans when Kenya started off the year with two international friendly wins against South Sudan and Tanzania in March, Stars were looking more likely to achieve their most sought milestone, qualifying for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Additionally, a 1-1 draw against African giants Egypt while playing with 10-men showed how good the team is getting despite missing out in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Kenya vowed to redeem themselves and make the cut in the World Cup qualifiers.

However, five matches into the Group E qualifiers; it is a case of broken promises, shattered dreams to some and utter disappointment to others. This was not meant to happen, but it surely did.

Harambee Stars were expected to make a mark in their long-overdue World Cup sojourn, but in the end, it was tears, disenchantment and bewilderment.

Mali are perched top of Group E with an unassailable 13 points and are guaranteed passage to the final round of qualifiers with a game to spare.

Uganda are second with nine points followed by Kenya in third place with three points. Rwanda are bottom with one point.

So, how did Harambee Stars find themselves in this mess? FKF just shot themselves in the foot when they unceremoniously fired then head coach Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee in the middle of a World Cup campaign and replaced him with Turkish tactician Engin Firat.

Mulee had started building the team’s chemistry and was enjoying a six-match unbeaten run.

With a contract of two months, Firat, whose record as a coach was not as enviable, gambled with his line up in the two crucial matches against Mali.

In the first leg played at Stade Adrar in Agadir, Morocco, Firat’s line up faced backlash from fans on social media after he played some experienced players out of position while benching natural wingers.

The Eagles, who have no national football league running, had a walk in the park dispossessing Kenya with ease.

In the second leg, despite a much improved performance, Kenya wasted a host of chances. Eventually, a 5-0 and 1-0 away and home defeats saw Kenya bundled out of the qualifiers with two matches left.

Playing against Uganda last week, goalkeeper Brian Bwire’s blunder in the 90th minute gifted Uganda Cranes an easy goal to force a 1-1 draw in Kampala.

Harambee Stars had taken the lead in the 62nd minute through Michael Olunga’s header and looked on course to secure a rare win against the Cranes in Kampala before Bwire‘s mistake.

Today, in what is expected to be the last game for Turkish coach Firat, there is nothing to play for other than pride.

The 51-year-old coach was hired on a two-month contract on September 21 by deposed FKF president Nick Mwendwa.

In the past four meetings between the two sides, Harambee Stars have won twice, Rwanda once and drawn once, a 1-1 tie.

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